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PDAF by any other name must be rejected

THE Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in November, 2013, on the ground that it allowed legislators to intervene or participate in carrying out projects after these had been approved by Congress in the General Appropriation Act.

In our system of government, the role of the executive department is to plan and carry out projects. Congress approves the funds for the projects, but should have no hand in their actual implementation. Under the PDAF, however, each congressman was given an allocation of R70 million and each senator R200 million for projects of their own choosing. They continued to be involved in the implementation of these projects. They had a hand, for example, in the choice of contractors for a road or a schoolhouse. They approved who were to benefit from the aid extended to hospitals.

Much of the longevity of legislators in their positions has been attributed to these funds – originally called “pork barrel” when the system was invented in the United States in the 19th century. Because they could be counted upon for local projects like roads and basketball courts, many legislators enjoyed public support in elections that an aspiring challenger did not have. The benefit extended to their relatives, giving rise to political dynasties.

When PDAF was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013, there were moves in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and Malacañang to come up with a suitable replacement. They came up with what they called Bottom-up Budgeting (BUB), under which local political officials would propose projects to be included in the national budget proposal. It was the same system of funding pet projects that would otherwise not be included in the national planning.

Last week, the report came out that members of the incoming 17th Congress were asked to propose projects – R50 million for “hard” projects or infrastructures and P30 million for “soft” projects, such as for hospitalization, training, and scholarships, for a total of P80 million per congressman, bigger even than the P70 million PDAF struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Incoming Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was quick to deny the report, saying President Duterte would not allow it. The new DBM Secretary Benjamin Diokno is very strict about this matter, he added.

It’s good that it has been swiftly rejected by the new administration for it would go against the Supreme Court decision of 2013. It would also go against the new administration’s own campaign for good government. The pork barrel allowed legislators and their favored local officials the use of public funds to promote their private interests. It has no place in the new administration of President Duterte.